2009 So Far: Suprisingly Passable

Mini reviews of all the 2009 movies I’ve seen so far, in reverse order:


What I Liked: First of all, Adventureland was filmed in Pittsburgh, PA (where I grew up) and parts of the fictional amusement park "Adventureland" were filmed at real-life amusement park Kennywood (where I went growing up and is the awesomest place EVER), so I felt warmly nostalgic already. The movie has a great naturalistic feel to it, a la Dazed And Confused, tracing its central characters while letting the others wander through the fringes (as opposed to presenting them one a time like “Here’s this guy! He’s the wacky dude who always plays the air drums! Yeah!”). And I admired the work of pretty much the whole cast (Eisenberg, Stewart, Staar, Reynolds, you name ‘em. Even Wiig and Hader scaled it back nicely).

What I Didn’t Like: Well, it’s hard to tell any coming of age story ever without treading familiar territory, I guess.

The Verdict: Three Stars- Kennywood! It’s a magic factory where dreams are made!


What I Liked: Clive Owen sort of gets to play the James Bond type he never got cast for, and Julia Roberts didn’t bother me as much as I predicted she would (what? I just don’t buy her as a femme fatale. Sorry). Tom Wilkinson and Paul Giamatti (who gets “and” credit, ooh) have fun as loudmouth CEOs. The plot is reasonably twisty.

What I Didn’t Like: It’s fun and all, but you just spend the entire movie waiting for the big reveal, to see who’s been playing who. And while I can’t say I called all the shots on what would happen, I can’t imagine needing to watch it ever again. Tony Gilroy seemed like an auteur capable of visual restraint with Michael Clayton, but he gets bogged down in Ocean’s style musical scene cues in Duplicity- the movie’s pretty proud of itself for being as inconsequential as it is, you could say.

The Verdict: Two and a Half Stars- what the hell, the dialogue is snappy and the movie passes quickly. I’d just rather see Gilroy get serious again for his next feature.


I Love You, Man

What I Liked: Paul Rudd, after playing wise-ass supporting parts, nails a sort of over-eager awkwardness endemic to any new friendship. Jason Segel is just awesome in anything. The name “Lou Ferrigno” is always funny to say. Rashida Jones got third billing, good for her.

What I Didn’t Like: Meh. The whole storyline sort of followed a bunch of movie clichés, but with a best friend in place of a girlfriend, as in “Boy meets friend, boy loses friend, boy regains friend.” But there were a surprisingly lack of gay-panic jokes, so kudos.

Verdict: Two And A Half Stars


What I Liked: The opening montage is pretty much awesome. Jackie Earle Haley for Best Supporting Actor? Billy Crudup and Harry Dean Stanton were also well-cast. It was of course fun to see so many panels recreated exactly on the screen, and so many moments (“I’m not locked in here with you…”). The story mostly survived intact, and the new ending didn’t bother me.

What I Didn’t Like: Malin Akerman was a cinematic black hole (in addition to her character getting rewritten into a mental patient). Most of the soundtrack cues were obtrusive and/or ridiculous. Zack Snyder gets WAY too much of a hard-on for limb-snapping violence. Matthew Goode was terribly miscast and Patrick Wilson had little time to be anything other than milquetoast. The love scene. Carla Guigino acting like she was in a Tennessee Williams play. The tenement fire-scene getting way overblown. I could keep going for a while- the thing is, I liked it okay the first time, enough to see it twice, but the second time through the negatives really started to wear on me (more than the positives grew on me).

Verdict: Two Stars- A for effort, but the spirit got lost somewhere. And it’s not because, like Alan Moore, I think it’s impossible to tell Watchmen in movie form. It’s just that Zack Snyder seemed to like Watchmen for its grisly violence and Dan Gibbons’ art (really?) instead of, you know, themes of Cold-War paranoia and psychological complexity, which is why everyone else IN THE WORLD likes it so much.

Coraline (3D)

What I Liked: Uh, how about everything? The 3D added to the story, Dakota Fanning’s voice didn’t drive me up the wall for once, the textures and detail in Selick’s claymation are always indelible. There was a short song by one the They Might Be Giants guys! The father was voiced by John Hodgman and the upstairs neighbor by Ian McShane! After the likeable but not terribly Gaimanish Stardust, Coraline completely nails the source material, departing only to flesh the story to feature length.

What I Didn’t Like: Uh, how about you not going to see it? Seriously, what’s your deal?

Verdict: Four Stars- It’s looking like an honest cage match (or dance-off) between Coraline and Up for the Best Animated Feature statue come Oscar-time.


What I Liked: Taken doesn’t feel the need to waste time. There’s maybe ten minutes or so of Liam Neeson’s former spook taking some part time work as a security guard and reluctantly agree to let his daughter take a trip to Paris before she’s kidnapped (while on the phone with him OMG) and he sets out to kick ass. And seventy minutes of ass-kicking ensue. What else do you need?

What I Didn’t Like: Uh, not much, really. I didn’t exactly pay (cough) for my ticket (cough) to see Taken, so I have no interest in harping on thin characters and nonsensical Paris law-enforcement logistics. There was ass, it was kicked.

Verdict: Two and Half Stars- delivers exactly what the trailer promises, with an extra half star for Neeson’s admirable badassery.

Underworld: Rise Of The Lycans

What I Liked: Sometimes you just gotta watch things that don’t take themselves too seriously. Or maybe things that take themselves so seriously that it’s funny- I can’t decide which one the Underworld prequel was. A friend of mine wanted to see it to complete the Underworld “trilogy,” so we went, and what I can I say- some werewolves fought some vampires, everybody came out a winner.

What I Didn’t Like: Not having seen the other two films, I figured I be okay since this all happened before those things occurred, but Rise Of The Lycans didn’t expect any non-fans to be interested whatsoever, and thus didn’t really bother explaining the particulars of the vampire/werewolf mythos in its world- thus I spent a good portion of the film asking Jacob annoying questions like “how come those vampire foot soldiers are incapacitated after one blow?” or “Can the werewolves change anytime, or does it have to be a full moon?”

What I Took Away: Respect for Michael Sheen, who was ripping out throats as the head werewolf in front of me while nebbishly interviewing Richard Nixon in the next theater over in Frost/Nixon. That’s an Oscar season juxtaposition nearly on par with Eddie Murphy in Dreamgirls/Norbit.

The Verdict: Two Stars- again, delivers exactly what you expect, not particularly memorable.

All in all, two films with three stars or higher is like a crazy winning streak for this third of the year. Could 2009 be as stacked as '07?

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